LOS BANOS -- A submarine veteran of both World War II and the Korean War, Joe Cox has mostly good memories of his time in the service.
"I've been lucky all my life," the 87-year-old Los Banos resident said.
Born in Booneville, Ark., Cox came to California at age 8 and attended high school in Reedley and Parlier.
In December 1943, right after the last basketball game of the season, Cox walked into the Navy recruiting station and enlisted. He said he would have been drafted if he hadn't volunteered.
"You'd see and hear about the mud and stuff, and I didn't want to get into the mud in the Army," Cox said. "And I'd never been to sea before, so I thought it'd be a good adventure."
He was assigned as a radio operator on the USS Orion, a submarine tender. He said he remembers being asked a battery of questions by a psychologist and a test to hold his breath for at least 60 seconds.
From the Orion, Cox moved on to the submarine USS Batfish, where he operated sonar equipment and was a lookout. "First you scan the surface, then you scan the sky," Cox said. "You're looking for anything that moves."
The Batfish was patrolling the coast of Honshu, Japan's largest island. One night, about 18 months into Cox's service, the sub surfaced to shell a town called Nagata.
"It got just a little bit chilly, and I was looking around and all I could see was water," Cox said, with a laugh. "I was thinking to myself, 'God, here I am 8,000 miles away from home, and I barely passed the swimming test to get out of boot camp.' "
On another occasion, while picking up downed airmen, an American bomber mistakenly made a run on the Batfish.
"It got a little hairy that night," he said.
"The next night we got a message back, 'Pilot no longer a pilot,' " Cox said with a laugh.
He spent four years on the Batfish -- and loving the food. He said each member of the crew showered maybe once a week and three seaman rotated between two beds, what was called a hot bunk.
"Once you get used to living out of a sea bag, there's nothing to it," he said.
Seamen took shifts of four hours on and eight hours off, during which they watched movies, read and studied.
He remembers a message coming over the radio in 1945 about a bomb that had destroyed a city.
"We sent that message to the rest of the crew and nobody believed us," Cox said, referring to the bomb dropped on Hiroshima. "We didn't believe it ourselves."
After the war, Cox moved back to California, where he farmed a little before going to Reedley College and California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo. He also signed up with the Navy reserves.
"I was told by the recruiter at that time, when I got out, 'Joe, you'll never get called back in,' " Cox said.
In 1950, he reported for duty aboard the USS McDermut, a destroyer that would patrol the east coast of Korea and protect aircraft carriers.
"The Navy really wasn't in too much of a danger in the Korean War, I didn't feel anyway, except for those floating mines," Cox said, about his two years on the McDermut.
Although he had some close calls, Cox said, he was never afraid for his life.
"Submarine duty is different, you know, because you're there with a lot of guys," Cox said. "It's like a small family."